If hearing the term “influencer” makes you roll your eyes, you’re not alone.
The PR debacle of the Fyre Festival, and the subsequent documentary, shone a not very positive spotlight onto the power of influencer marketing, and put a lot of misconceptions into the minds of the media and the public.I wanted to learn what influencer marketing is really all about, whether it can be used by businesses of any size, or whether it is simply for the world of B2C. There’s no one better to speak to about this subject than Neal Schaffer, author of the new book “The Age Of Influence”.
Check out this short video featuring clips from this week's episode:
Neal is a recognised leader in helping businesses maximise social media. He’s a global keynote speaker, university educator, social media agency owner, author, social media strategy consultant, and he’s helped leading brands reach the next level of social media marketing. He’s even worked with Grammy Award-winning musicians!
If anyone can convince me to stop rolling my eyes when I hear “influencer”, it’s Neal.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
A lot of people assume influencer marketing is something that only big B2C companies partake in, associating it with Instagrammers, TikTokers and YouTubers promoting brands.
Neal explained to me that the current perception of the Influencer comes from the rapid growth of the influencer marketing industry, something that is very Instagram-centric and very B2C centric. There are now dozens of influencer marketing agencies and dozens of influencer marketing tools, because there’s a lot of money being thrown at the industry.
“Last year there was $2 billion spent on Instagram influencers alone, so there’s a lot of money being thrown at them.”
This influencer industry is built around the idea that the more followers someone has, the more brands pay them. Which raises some difficult questions - it’s possible to buy fake followers and fake engagement, and Neal explained that influencer fraud of this nature is a real risk for companies
“The concept of digital influence has always been out there.”
Neal discussed the days of blogger outreach, when brands would seek to leverage the influence of the Mommy Bloggers, the B2B Bloggers or the Tech Bloggers, who all had real power and value within their communities. Blogger outreach by companies was to try and gain digital influence in Google’s eyes, no different to the way brands today reach out to TikTokers, Instagrammers and YouTubers.
“When you look at the different contact mediums that exist … and when you look at the different social networks, and then you look at the different ways in which we digitally consume content ... you begin to paint a picture that digital influence has been around for a long time.”
Neal gave me some eye-opening examples of influencer marketing that are easy to overlook.
If you think about podcast interviewers who may not be well known in the industry, but can gain credibility by inviting other people who are more famous onto the show, and then hopefully that guest will share the podcast with their community. That’s an example of influencer marketing.
Or when companies do a blog and reach out to an expert for a quote, they’re hoping that the expert will also then share the content that they helped write, with their own audience.
“At the heart of it, influencer marketing is about collaborating with content creators who have a community.”
How Can We Measure Someone’s Influence? How Do We Know An Influencer Will Be A Good Fit?
If effective influencer marketing isn’t simply about who has the most followers, then how can you go about finding the right fit for your company?
Neal explained that the way to approach this is to ask - who are your target customers and what media are they consuming to help them? What brands do they follow, what people do they follow?
“From there we begin to paint a map of our industry. Which media outlets and social media profiles seem to have greater pull with our target customers? And the more niche the industry, the fewer those players are, especially in B2B.”
Whatever the industry, the first thing a prospective buyer is going to do is search online, especially if it’s a niche business. They’ll do a Google search, or a LinkedIn search, or a Twitter search to find the information they need. So if you put yourself in the shoes of your potential customers and do the same digital searches they would do, who are the content creators around this subject? And that’s how everyone can find the true influencers in their industry.
You might think that anybody and everybody has a blog, but when it comes to B2B that’s not the case. Neal talked about how even among those who do have a blog, they don’t all have equal influence. So who’s showing up at the top of the search engine rankings? Or who seems to have a larger engagement and a bigger community on their twitter profile or LinkedIn page?
“In this very holistic way of looking at it, you begin to see which people, which business you want on your radar as entities you want to consider for collaboration in the future.”
What Does Influencer Content Collaboration Look Like?
If you’ve asked the right questions and come to the right conclusions, then you’ve narrowed down your list of which influencers are a good fit for your business. I was really curious to find out from Neal what are the best ways to leverage their influence.
“There’s a misconception in the way influencers are painted in traditional media and in people’s imagination. That it’s always a short-term, one-time transaction. That is the case for some, but more and more they’re looking at longer-term relationships.”
What we do see a lot of in the B2B space is content centred around use of product. The brand gives the influencer something complimentary, and if they enjoy it then they share that experience with their audience. It opens a line of communication with that influencer, and just getting feedback on your product or service could be invaluable, and something you might consider a tremendous ROI.
Above and beyond that we have content pieces which are collaboration between the brand and the influencer. “For those you need to be asking yourself; how do we publish content? How do we include the influencer in our content? How can we be included in the influencer’s content so we’re exposed to their audience?”
Events can be another engaging way to leverage an influencer’s reach for your brand. Outside of the current pandemic, we can see from the B2C space that brands create live events just as an excuse to bring different influencers together and gain access to their audiences.
Live events are powerful and currently you can take advantage of them in the format of virtual summits and webinars.
“One of my clients is a B2B SaaS start-up, they only have 100 followers but they’re engaging with companies that might be considered potential partners…they’re doing webinars together where they’re asking these companies to come speak, and through that they’re building up their email list, and they’re building up a funnel of prospects, by leveraging Influencer Marketing in a very, very niche B2B start-up space.”
Like with any marketing, It really comes down to what are your objectives? Any content that you create in this way will be a collaboration so ask yourself, what’s in it for them and what’s in it for me? How would we like to work together, and how could we work together?
Do Affiliates And Advocates Play A Role In Influencer Marketing?
Neal explained that, at its core, Affiliate Marketing is Influencer Marketing. The reason you would bring an affiliate on board is because they have digital influence that you want to leverage.
“Affiliate Marketing is influencer marketing. You’re tapping into the social network of those affiliates and using their digital influence.”
Neal also spoke about the power of employee advocacy, and that when brands treat employees like influencers, they can tap into employees for content. It can be a huge source of content creation and can lead to a great deal of content repurposing.
“With social media it’s very clear that the algorithms favour people over businesses … but when we work with other people in social media, that’s when we bypass the algorithms because we’re leveraging people power and their social networks. And that’s how we can get more exposure for our content.”
Where To Find Your Brand Advocates
We might think of influencers as being people with a huge following on social media. But Neal explained on the podcast that more and more the industry is recognising the impact of Micro Influencers (who possess around 10,000 followers) and Nano Influencers (who may only have 1000 followers).
In his book “The Age Of Influence”, Neal describes the importance of identifying Nano Influencers who already know, like & trust your brand. These could be employees or partners, they could be distributors, existing customers or people who Follow your social media. If these people have more than 1000 followers and they already know, like & trust your brand, they can be leveraged to share content about you.
Neal told me that because of the already existing relationship between your brand and these Nano Influencers, there’s less of a need to pay them to advocate for you. They already want to advocate for you because they’re already a fan.
“A lot of companies in the B2B space might not have that word of mouth about their company yet, and that’s where you need to leverage influencers to incite word of mouth. That’s why you begin with people who already know, like & trust you.”
Can Influencer Marketing Work For Small Businesses?
It’s no secret that companies pay a lot of money to Google for pay-per-click adverts, and that results in a high spend for lead acquisition. Influencer Marketing can be a different route, but as Neal explained, every approach has to be data-driven for your organisation.
“Take the money you spend on paid social, invest some of it into working with influencers and then compare the results.”
Neal gave the B2B SaaS start-up we talked about earlier as a case study. They reached out to a few more influential entities in the industry, leveraged that in the form of a webinar and then leveraged those leads. Neal told me that the ROI of that approach was exponential to them, because they didn’t pay money for those leads, they just spent a little bit on advertising to promote the webinar.
“When you compare the price of getting 50 leads on Google versus acquiring them organically with a webinar, there’s just no comparison.”
If you collaborate with influencers on content creation pieces, consider the money you would be spending on content creation anyway. Once created, that influencer piece can be leveraged for your adverts at a later date. A great way of repurposing content.
Neal explained that with Influencer Marketing there is a tremendous ROI when done right. That begins with having the right objective, working with the right people and doing the right measurements as you proceed.
Let’s Stop Rolling Our Eyes At Influencer Marketing
Once you get past that Fyre Festival story and the misconceptions the media have about influencers, Neal is helping the market to realise the holistic meaning of digital influence and the different ways you can use that as part of your content creation. More and more buyers are looking for trust and word of mouth, and that’s what influencers can give your brand.
“Influencer Marketing is more than just Instagram, it’s more than just a one-time transaction, it’s this broad area of tapping into other people’s audiences to increase your digital influence.”
We’d love to hear your experiences with influencer marketing. Have you used it for your brand? Have we changed any preconceptions you had about influencers? Let us know!